Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sourdough whole wheat bread

Kneaded whole wheat sourdough

We live close to a Pain Quotidien restaurant, and there is nothing better on a weekday morning when the crowds have gone than to breakfast at PQ. However, in these recessionary days I'm not always prepared to spend $12 on a soft-boiled egg and a few strips of bread. 

But their bread is so very, very delicious: crisp, sharp, crackly edges, chewy middle, sourdough aroma. Heaven when dipped in runny egg yolk. I wanted to find a way to make this bread myself. Back in November I bought some sourdough starter, but I didn't want to deal with it then. I threw some flour and water in it, stuck it in the back of the refrigerator and hoped for the best. 

I took it out two days ago. I sniffed it. Pungent, but more or less all right, although it was oozing wine-purple liquid over the edge of the jar. The question: toss or keep? I decided on keeping. I scraped this maroon mess into a bowl, poured on more flour and water and left it on the counter overnight, hoping it hadn't fizzed out in the fridge. Here's what it looked like yesterday, fragrant and gently bubbling. This step, for those of you who were never flower children, is called feeding the starter.

The next morning the starter looks happily fed

On Day 2, you add more flour, water and salt and allow the dough to sit overnight again so the starter can grow at room temperature. There are many flours you can use. I used what was handy at the local supermarket. 

The flour - whole wheat if not actually organic

Looking rustic after adding flour on Day 2

In the morning on Day 3 you add more flour and begin to knead. None of these steps actually require much work, and it's surprisingly quick because you divide the steps over several days. You might put in 15 to 30 minutes of work on each day  - although you need to add a few minutes to wash the sticky, gungy mixing bowl. But it's not an overwhelming project.

Day 3 - we knead the bread

Once you knead the bread, you form it into loaves, slit them and place them on a baking tray covered with cornmeal (you could use polenta) for a second rise. My son and I hovered over the still-raw loaves, breathing in that pungent pure San Francisco sourdough smell. It was almost good enough to eat raw, but we managed to pop the loaves into the oven.

Finished loaves before baking

Out of the oven, ready to devour

I purchased my starter from the wonderful Moonwise Herbs. They supply cheese-making starters too - everything to turn your city apartment or suburban home into a farmhouse.

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